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Six Industry Innovators Share Their Inspirations from the Lunar Landing

When the Apollo 11 came to rest in the lunar Sea of Tranquility on July 20th, 1969 and began transmitting back to Earth grainy black-and-white images of a spider-legged ship, pale figures within shiny helmets, and, a bit later, magisterial photographs of Earth itself against the black void of space, the human race’s conception of itself changed forever. The voyage inspired political realignments and countless scientific breakthroughs; it also inspired the look and feel of a number of cultural masterpieces, from Brian Eno’s 1983 ambient classic Apollo: Atmospheres and Soundtracks to Andrei Tarkovsky’s 1971 stark sci-fi epic Solaris.

Architecture and design took that giant leap for mankind along with Neil Armstrong. In celebration of the fiftieth anniversary of the moon landing, we spoke to innovators in the industry about their own lunar inspirations.

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Perilune by Suzanne Tick for Luum Textiles. Photography courtesy of Luum Textiles.

Suzanne Tick, creative director, Luum Textiles

As a child, the textile designer Suzanne Tick watched the landing from her home in Bloomington, Illinois. “What was riveting to me was the sound of someone on the moon and his buoyancy,” Tick says. “I had this realization that a person can be on the moon while I’m sitting at home and he could also be floating!” Since then, the moon has been an important force in her life. “I’ve lived by the MoMA Moon Charts and they have played a large part in my consciousness. A poignant time in my life was 2009, 2010, and 2011 which coincided with the last three years of my father’s life, my marriage, and my son living with me. For this reason, I wove a triptych of each of these years and sewed them together as a reminder of that shift in my life.” This design became Perilune, a printed polyurethane which was introduced through Luum.

Long Dock Park in Beacon, New York by Gary R. Hilderbrand. Photography by James Ewing.

Gary R. Hilderbrand, FASLA FAAR; principal, Reed Hilderbrand; Peter Louis Hornbeck Professor in Practice, Harvard Graduate School of Design

“Because my Aunt and grandmother had a large color TV, anything momentous like this we watched in their living room,” says Gary Hilderbrand. “All gathered ‘round for the moon landing. It’s singed on my brain.” The landscape architect would go on to transform a brownfield in Beacon, New York, into a waterfront parkland with site-specific work by artist George Trakas and two buildings by ARO. “Apollo amplified my instincts about knowing our place in the world and a sense that we somehow had technological knowledge to improve it,” he says. “Seeing these missions orbiting around the other side of the moon, and then exploring its surface, gave me hope that we could right our own environmental mess and craft a smarter, saner landscape. That way of seeing the Earth descended directly from the Apollo 8 ‘earthrise’ photograph. Who would not be affected by that image?!”

SiriusXM’s New York Headquarters and Broadcast Center by Michael Kostow. Photography by Adrian Wilson.

Michael Kostow, founding principal, Kostow Greenwood Architects

Satellite radio wouldn’t exist without the technological breakthroughs of the Apollo mission, so it made perfect sense to have a space fan design the headquarters for one of its largest players, SiriusXM. “I watched the moon landing as a youngster and even had early aspirations of becoming an astronaut,” says Michael Kostow. “I later wanted to design space vehicles for NASA, would build and fly multi-stage model rockets, and even as an architecture graduate student had an early morning ‘party’ to drink Tang and watch the first launch of the space station with my classmates.” The compact efficiency of the capsules influenced his plan for the satellite broadcasting company: “We wanted to invoke simplicity and timelessness,” he says, “and allow the empty space to be an active player in setting the mood.” Mission accomplished.

Aerial and Half-Moon by Kelly Harris Smith for Skyline Design. Photography courtesy of Skyline Design.

Kelly Harris Smith, designer and creative director, Kelly Harris Smith

“I’ve never been on a rocket ship,” says designer Kelly Harris Smith, “but I have flown on an airplane and to this day I always request a window seat so I can peek out over the landscape.” The designer was born after the moon landing but carries the legacy of an aerial point of view into a collection for Chicago’s Skyline Design of glass panels with systems of micro-patterns within shapes and gradations of color over larger repeats. “It’s rooted in looking at the familiar in a new way,” she says, “which I have to imagine is what all astronauts experience looking back at Earth.”

Draper, Cambridge, Massachusetts. Photography by Mark Flannery.

Elizabeth Lowrey, principal, Elkus Manfredi Architects

“Watching the moon landing, even at such a young age, I was awed by the realization that anything is possible,” says Elizabeth Lowrey—even growing up to design a new home for Draper, a not-for-profit engineering firm that created software for Apollo 11. “I remember, as we stepped into Draper’s lobby, the first thing we saw was a space shuttle model.  Even more thrilling was the opportunity to meet Margaret Hamilton, the pioneering software engineer who had made the moon landing possible!” A glass and steel structure forms the roof of the Draper atrium, which is rung with seven floors of offices and laboratories connected by blue glass vertical and horizontal stairways, green walls, and “the Cloud,” a polished steel polyhedron that is truly out of this world.

On the Water/Palisade Bay, New York City. Photography courtesy of ARO.

Adam Yarinsky, FAIA LEED AP, principal, Architecture Research Office

“I was seven, I remember watching the feed of the moonwalk,” says ARO co-founder Adam Yarinksy. “And if you were a kid that was into building models, you had the plastic model kit that was black and white with USA in red on the side. I built a model of the Saturn V and the lunar and command and service modules. The purposefulness of the vehicle had a kind of directness when you compare it to technology today. The control panels were just rows and rows of switches that all looked the same. There was a kind of Dieter Rams quality to it.” But it was politics, not aesthetics, that really inspired Yarinsky’s work with ARO, including this vision of the upper harbor of New York and New Jersey which proposes archipelago and wetlands to mitigate rising sea levels and storm surges. “The finite nature of the planet we’re on reinforces the notion that architecture is part of this web of relationships,” he says. “The best architecture tries to modify and transform, but it’s not an autonomous thing. It’s linked. That sense of connection is the legacy.”

Continue reading Six Industry Innovators Share Their Inspirations from the Lunar Landing

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How A Unique Approach to Cash Flow Has Helped This Architect Construct Her Business

How A Unique Approach to Cash Flow Has Helped This Architect Construct Her Business
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Leslie Saul & Associates, Inc. is an architecture and interior design firm based in Cambridge, Massachusetts that primarily services the greater Boston and Miami areas. The business focuses on renovations including offices, restaurants, retail stores, senior living facilities, private homes, universities, churches, and synagogues, among many other building types. Founder Leslie Saul says that having such a broad practice has helped her maintain a business for more than 26 years. Additionally, her attention to quality and value have brought back return customers and helped retain long-term employees.  

Why did you start your business?

I went to Rhode Island School of Design. When I applied, I wanted to be a painter. I took a gap year and realized that I’m a people person. I got my degree in architecture. Even when I was in school, I was really focused on interiors, partly because of my painting background.

I worked my way up in the architecture business, working for various firms. I talked to a friend from a big firm who mentioned a model shop they didn’t really use. He mentioned that maybe I should start my own firm. Once I had that space, I asked my previous firm to buy me out. I wanted my firm to be family-friendly, with flextime and things like that. Those things are very common now, but at the time, I had a four-year-old and I felt limited by not having them, even though I was a principal at my old firm.

How did you fund the business at the start?

I used my savings. And, in 1992, American Express gave me credit even though I had no income. My husband worked, so we had one income, but we gave up everything, from newspapers to dinners out. Within six months of starting, we were cash flow neutral.

How do you manage cash flow?

We ask for retainers from our clients. It needs to be enough money to show a seriousness of purpose, even though it might not necessarily cover the costs for the first month. When we get inquiries, we sometimes do some initial low-cost services that get clients comfortable working with us

To help with cash flow, I don’t take a big salary to keep a lot of cash in the business. I’ve never missed a paycheck over 26 years, except for my own. I’ve learned that people will stick with you if you stick with them. If you lay people off at the start of a slow down, you may not be able to hire people when you need them. Though that may negatively impact cash flow, we have the benefit of keeping our team together and being able to produce very quickly when new clients bring us on board.

What’s the most challenging thing about running the company?

Continuing to grow the quality of projects and clients. I’ve never focused on quantity. When I worked for larger firms that do focus on quantity, it felt like I was just keeping the underlings motivated versus getting my own satisfaction from any of the work.

What’s the most rewarding thing about running the company?

Seeing the successes and development of the people who have worked for us over the years. Not only the long-timers, but also the people who move away and call me and say, “I always say to myself, what would Leslie do?” That’s very rewarding and I feel very proud of them!

There’s no better gratification than seeing a finished product and knowing how you’ve fulfilled a client’s needs and wants and overcome their challenges. Just this morning, we were talking to an old client who said, “I’m not sure if I ever told you how much we love this and how perfect everything you did was!”

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What’s the biggest mistake you made when starting out?

We’ve made some economic mistakes like setting a fee too low or not really understanding the scope before starting a project. I was and probably still am easily bullied when it comes to money, especially when it comes to doing work for larger firms.

What’s the smartest thing you did when starting out?

I asked a friend to help me and he said I needed a good phone number. It was so memorable! People still say they call that number when they try to reach us, even though we moved 19 years ago!

Also, I hired people who filled my weaknesses. I think a lot of entrepreneurs hire themselves, especially in my industry. The smartest thing you can do is to be honest with yourself about what your weaknesses are and hire people that are good at those things. Together, you’re better than anyone individually.

What advice would you give to a new entrepreneur?

You will do great! Always believe in yourself! Always do the right thing. Always stay true to your values and remember your reputation can’t be rebuilt.

What’s next for Leslie Saul & Associates, Inc.

I’ll be turning 65 and I want to keep this going. I really enjoy what I do. I like the idea that design services should not just be the exclusive benefit of wealthy people. I feel like there are others who have needs that we can help meet. So, I feel like I haven’t finished and there’s a lot in our future.  

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ABOUT AUTHOR

Ashley Sweren

Ashley Sweren

Ashley Sweren is a freelance marketing writer and editor. She owns her own small business, Firework Writing (http://www.fireworkwritingonline.com/), located in San Jose, California.

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